Archive: October 15, 2004

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Friday,  10/15/04  07:02 AM

Just a trial post, trying to see if I still remember how :)

It has been four months.  Four months!  Wow.  Well, maybe I can still do it.  We'll see.

Where I have I been?  Nowhere really.  Working hard on a few projects, enjoying the summer.  I have a lot to report, maybe I'll dribble it out over the next hours and days and weeks.  I have 2,523 RSS items queued up in SharpReader - stand by...

So I'm in my wiring closet, removing my XO IDSL router (story to follow), and I notice my firewall lights blinking furiously.  What?  There was a day - maybe a year ago - when I checked my blog stats daily.  Haven't checked for weeks.  But those lights; what's happening?

After a year and a half, suddenly Tyranny of Email is popular again, thanks to Whole Lot of Nothing and  Mark Frauenfelder at the incomparable Boing Boing.  It's been a long time since I had 51,000 hits in a day :)  I guess that kind of attention can wake you up.


Friday,  10/15/04  08:01 AM

Ramble on...  (some of this is kind of old ...)

Bram Cohen (of Bittorrent fame) is blogging.  Subscribed.  (Here's a nice post about, well, read it!) 

The History of the Universe in Seven Snoozes, by Jim Ruland.  Beautiful, wonderful, amazing.  Reminds me strongly of my recently-deceased-but-always-on-my-mind friend Daniel Jacoby; he would have loved it.  [ via Xeni Jardin

From The Scientist: G8 Backs HIV Vaccine Plan - "A global program styled on the Human Genome Project gets the nod from world leaders".  Paging Craig Venter

The Cassini-Huygens probe has been sending back some unbelievable pictures from Saturn and its moons.  Surreal.  (Wired has a nice survey article.) 

Caltech has a monthly periodical for alumni called "Engineering and Science".  The articles are always fascinating.  I also find the personals and obituaries interesting; not that they're people I knew, but they are cool snapshots from worthwhile lives.  Inspiring in a funny way. 

Consider, for example, Arnold Beckman, the son of a blacksmith, an ex-Marine, who became a Chemical Engineer and founded Beckman Instruments.  His foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of science.

Don't you hate websites that force you to register to access their content?  Newspapers are the worst offenders.  They just don't get it; personally, if I have to register I'll just find the information somewhere else.  Anyway there's this cool site called which has cached a whole bunch of registration information, so you can access all sorts of "registration required" sites without, er, registering.  Of course, looking up registration information there can take just as long as registering yourself, so the real gain is anonymity rather than productivity. 

Oh, remember buckyballs?  An interesting semi-spherical form of carbon, C60, named after Buckminster Fuller, the "futurist" who thought buildings based on hemispherical designs would save material.  Anyway apparently researchers have been able to make a smaller version, C50.  "The key to producing the smaller buckyballs was causing chlorine atoms to attach to the carbon atoms that are shared by abutting pentagons. The chlorine atoms form a ring around and stabilize the molecular structure."  So be it. 


Windows video conferencing

Friday,  10/15/04  08:24 AM

I still want to know: Does anyone have comments about Windows-based video conferencing systems?  Please email me.

Surely this is a solved problem by now :/


In the Wet

Friday,  10/15/04  08:49 AM

One of my favorite books of all time is Nevil Shute's In the WetIf you haven't read it, you should.  It defies an easy synopsis but it is a wonderful engrossing read and is definitely thought provoking.  It takes place in "the future", which given that the book was written in 1952 is now our recent past.

One of the most interesting ideas of the book, thrown in almost as an afterthought, is the idea of "multiple voting".  In such a democracy - which Shute fancifully assumed Australia to become - each citizen has at least one vote.  But some have more than one, earned through various accomplishments such as education, military service, travel, etc.  Shute felt this would result in better government; whether it would or not is open to debate, and even if you grant that it would, getting there would be politically impossible.  Food for thought, nonetheless...

My reaction to the current Presidential campaign, including the debates - about which I will have more to say, possibly - is that our present system of democracy is clearly not optimal.  Any system that yields Bush and Kerry as the finalists has problems.  But political systems are like nature, you can't just get "there" from "here", there has to be a connecting path, even if "there" would be stable once you get there.  The natural selection of society, evolving in realtime.

I just voted, by the way; I'm a permanent absentee voter.  This means I get to vote early, and my vote will [in all probability] never be counted.  Of course being a Presidential voter in California means my vote doesn't matter anyway; the state will go for Kerry, regardless of my vote or anyone else's.  One of the deepest suboptimalities in our present system is the Electoral College; consider that California, New York, and Texas are the three most populous and [arguably] most opinionated states, and yet neither candidate is paying them any attention at all, because they are already "in the bag" one way or another.  Colorado has a referendum pending which would split their Electoral College votes in proportion to their popular vote, which is an interesting step in the right direction.  Imagine if we did that in California?  Arnold, what say you?

On the California ballot this year we have a number of interesting propositions.  Now I'm a fairly savvy guy, I stay current, follow the issues, read blogs, and trouble to read the voter information materials which describe each proposition.  I have to tell you, it is not easy to figure out what these propositions would do, in fact, even if you understand the premise behind them it isn't easy to tell whether voting "yes" means it would happen!  So where does this leave the average voter?  I confess to a low opinion of this mythical person, I don't think they stay current, follow the issues, read blogs, OR trouble to read the voter information materials.  In fact they probably think TV "news" is news!  (Hint: Dan Rather is an actor, not a journalist.)  Each of these hypothetical average voters has just as much say in whether these propositions pass as I do.  Maybe that's good, but I actually don't think so.

Here's an idea; on the ballot there are these propositions, and for each proposition we put five "test questions" about the proposition.  If you don't answer three of the questions correctly, your vote doesn't count.  Seems fair to me ...


(new yorker, 6/20/04)

Friday,  10/15/04  10:50 AM

The early dawn of a new type of society :)


Friday,  10/15/04  09:56 PM

Okay, so I sorted through 3,000+ RSS items in SharpReader and now have 427 I want to post.  Do you care?  No.  Do you wish I won't post them all at once?  Yes.  You will get your wish.

So - space.  While I was out, SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize!  That's pretty terrific, privately financed space tourism and exploration is finally out of the blocks.  And with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic we may soon have a fleet of these things, flying us to space.  Excellent.  [ Xeni Jardin was there, and links Alan Radecki's excellent pics.  What a photogenic spacecraft, eh? ] 

Now if we could just get that Space Tourism Bill passed :)

In other news, today I received SpaceX's bimonthly update email (also posted online).  What an exciting company, and they're just about to launch their first rocket!  SpaceX ultimately aims to send tourists into orbit, which is about 25X harder (in terms of energy required) than "reaching space".  They're going to prove out their technology by launching satellites first. 

And meanwhile Messenger continues on toward Mercury!  (With gravity assists from Venus.) 

And Randall Parker wonders: Can We Finally Retire the Space Shuttle?  "It is my hope that the success of SpaceShipOne and the coming flights of SpaceShipTwo and other private spacecraft designs will allow the American public to get over their emotional attachment to the Space Shuttle. People no longer need to invest their hopes for space exploration in the Shuttle. We can relegate the Shuttle to history as an obsolete and flawed design."  Biggest difference?  The shuttle was built by the government, not private industry. 


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